"When a child is born he is a clean slate. While certain instincts and drives exist which are necessary to his survival, his opinions and assumptions are yet to be formed."
"When a child runs naked through a field of grass, she is not, at that moment, preoccupied with the ways of the world. She is free and unhindered, able to experience life in the most direct way possible."
Freedom... this is a word that is bandied about to the point where it becomes more of a cliché or an icon than a state of existence we actually experience. And yet it is something that remains a part of us once we've tasted its sweetness. It is a kind of clarity of being -- a state of purity which allows our souls to soar and presents us with a vision of a life without limits. It is the ground state of our being -- the initial kernel of awareness which blesses us before we learn to "know better".
When a child is born he is a clean slate. While certain instincts and drives exist which are necessary to his survival, his opinions and assumptions are yet to be formed. He knows pain and pleasure, but in their purest and most undifferentiated states. He hasn't had a chance to tie these apprehensions to specific circumstances, but soon he learns how. Yet as that process begins and progresses, the young child remains happily unaffected by many of the weightier concerns of his parents and other adults.
For a child the separation between himself and the world is only beginning. Everything appears joined to his experience of it -- subjective and centered in his own perception. He learns good and evil on a visceral level. Things which cause pain are to be avoided and things which cause pleasure are to be pursued. He navigates through the world using this compass, unaware to a great extent that the body which is the receptacle of his life and feelings is not simply another particle of the great mystery that surrounds him. It hasn't yet become fully his own.
Experiences of his own actions and accountability accumulate, however, and he begins to learn responsibility. These are things which become his own, exclusive of others. His body as well is more and more seen as something which he must look out for and protect. While his mother and father may still oversee him, his increasing independence takes him further afield and increases the risks to life and limb.
It is in this dim time that his body goes from being an instrument of his life to a thing which belongs to him. Increasingly he must take on the task of caring for it. He must cover it and see to its needs. As this process takes place he does not immediately perceive all these things or carry them out as he should. It is a burden after all to own a body. It is a thing which needs to be fed, groomed, cleaned, and kept from harms way. It must be controlled and conditioned to do the things its master demands. And it doesn't always cooperate.
In time a child learns that the body has about it aspects which others view as distasteful or unpleasant. One of the things he must do is make sure those things are kept under wraps and out of sight. This might not make a great deal of sense to him, but it must be done this way. The pure, clear, uplifting experience of simply being alive becomes tainted by a growing perception of the evil aspects of the very thing which is the medium of life. This realization eats away at his heart, undermines his faith in the basic goodness and simplicity of the world and leaves him feeling like a stranger in his own skin. It is the pure becoming impure. It is the first whisper of evening at the very morning of a young life.
When a child runs naked through a field of grass, she is not, at that moment, preoccupied with the ways of the world. She is free and unhindered, able to experience life in the most direct way possible. It is only when an adult tells her that she is wrong to do this and fills her head with vague and ominous warnings that stain her appreciation of the moment that her happiness withers and comes back a little less powerfully the next time. There are few sights more exemplary of sheer, unselfconscious elan than the picture of a naked child unashamed and matter-of-fact, moving through the world as if it is her home. There are no other motives in her mind, no distracting, sly seductions ticking away in her virginal heart -- just the pure happiness of being what she is.
For many adults such joy is lost to them. The world has betrayed their dreams too many times to succumb to such delusions. And for them the sight of a naked child only awakens apprehension. They, with good intentions, fear for her and the harm that might befall her. They know too much of the evil ways of their fellow human beings and are too aware of the predators who would ruin the very innocence they seek to protect. These crestfallen ones are very admirable in their own way. They seek to preserve something lost to them for as long as is humanly possible. But in doing this they create about them and their children an aura of anxiety where evil may not do its worst but still creeps into their hearts like a poisonous fog. The innocent are forced to surrender certain precious aspects of their innocence. They cannot run naked through the grass on a summer's day. They cannot smile at someone they do not know -- not with the fullest trust they are entitled to experience.
We must be wary of undermining the purity of a child's heart in our attempts to preserve it. Certainly there is evil in the world and it must be kept at bay. But it may be far better to instruct our children that evil is never more powerful than the simplicity of a kind heart and a gentle smile. We must teach them to avoid harm, but we must not do so in such an extreme way that they are paralyzed with fear and guilt. If evil befalls them despite our best efforts to protect them, we must have faith that the healing power of love will rescue them from the toxins which pollute our world and heal them so that they may still experience the essential purity which remains in the hearts of even the most corrupt. We must let them run naked through the grass so they can show us how it's done -- in the spirit of guiltlessness and freedom which only the youngest among us know in its purest form.